“Car Kingdom” Gunma Bewildered by National Directive that Bicyclists Must Use Street Even if Sidewalk is Empty

Typical Gunma Traffic: Road Full, Sidewalk Empty
A specially designed bicycle lane in Maebashi City on November 5. There are few pedestrians on the adjacent sidewalk, but the road to the left is full of automobiles.

“Car Kingdom” Gunma Bewildered by National Directive that Bicyclists Must Use Street Even if Sidewalk is Empty
Yomiuri Shimbun: 歩道ガラガラでも自転車は車道…困惑の車王国
November 6, 2011

The Gunma Police Department is launching a prefecture-wide investigation of the state of its roads after receiving notification from the national police that bicycles must use the same roads as automobiles.

In large cities like Tokyo with many pedestrians, it would be dangerous for bicycles to use the sidewalks, but in an automobile-dependent community like Gunma, there are many walkways with no one walking on them, and people are complaining about the order to strictly enforce the country’s one-size-fits-all regulation.

The police memo is called “General Bicycle Traffic Policy” and is dated October 25. It was sent to the police departments of every prefecture, and it states that given the recent boom in bicycle usage, police officers should enforce national traffic law considering bicycles the equivalent of automobiles in order to prevent accidents between cyclists and pedestrians.

Many police have been overlooking the presence of bicycles on sidewalks, where they are forbidden to travel unless the trail is wider than two meters and specifically designated for them.

The National Police has redefined the standard for bicycle lanes as “3 meters or wider” and reemphasized the law in order to protect pedestrians. It also directs police departments to consider decreasing the number of automobile lanes in order to create new bicycle lanes marked off with colored lines.

After the Gunma Police received the notice at the end of October, it ordered each local police department to investigate the conditions on the roads and sidewalks adjacent to its 1885 bicycle paths, which total 2356 kilometers in length. Besides recording the width and number of pedestrians on each sidewalk, the police were requested to check the amount of space available on the sides of adjacent roads for new bicycle lanes.

The department plans to finish its study by the end of the year and implement a concrete response at the beginning of the new year. It is sounding out various strategies, such as establishing new bicycle lanes or eliminating striped safety areas between automobile lanes in order to make room on the margins for bicycles. The project is expected to take years, and municipalities will have to request budget increases to match their projects.

The national notice says each police department has the discretion to decide how to balance principles and local circumstances.

But in Gunma Prefecture, called “Car Kingdom” because it has the highest rate of automobiles per capita, the directive has left drivers and cyclists bewildered. A 17-year old Maebashi City male who cycles to and from school says that “cars have brushed my body during rush hour before. I don’t want to ride on the road because it’s frightening.” A 33-year old housewife who drives every day says “it’s dangerous to have bikes on the same road as cars.”

According to national statistics, last year there were 2760 bicycle-and-pedestrian accidents, a 50% increase over the 1827 accidents recorded in 2000. 30 of the 2010 accidents were in Gunma, roughly equal to the 35 recorded there in 2000. But the prefecture had more than 100 times as many bicycle-and-automobile accidents: 3136. The prefectural police are anxious: “Gunma is different from big cities. There’s no one on the sidewalks, but the roads are soaked with cars. Won’t forcing bicycles onto the roads cause even more accidents?” (Emphasis added by translator)

Original/原稿:
歩道ガラガラでも自転車は車道…困惑の車王国

自転車の走行スペースが設けられた歩道。歩道に人通りは少なく、隣の車道は混み合う(5日、前橋市で)

警察庁が自転車の車道通行を徹底させる通達を出したことを受け、群馬県警は、県内全域の道路で実態調査を始めた。

東京など大都市部では、歩行者が多い歩道で危険走行を繰り返す自転車が問題視されているが、車社会の群馬では、人が歩いていない歩道も多く、全国一律でのルール徹底の号令に不安の声も上がっている。

同庁の通達「自転車交通総合対策」は10月25日付。自転車ブームを背景に急増する自転車と歩行者の事故を防ごうと、道交法の原則に戻り、自転車を車両として扱うことを徹底するよう全国の警察本部に求めた。

自転車は本来、歩道を走行できないが、「幅2メートル以上」で「自転車通行可」の指定を受けた歩道では、例外的に走行が許され、許可外の歩道走行もお目こぼしされることが多かった。

そのため同庁は、基準を「幅3メートル以上」に変更し、改めて車道通行のルールを利用者に守らせるよう通達。車線を減らし、色分けされた「自転車通行帯」を設けたり、自転車道を整備したり、具体的な対策を検討するよう指示した。

通達を受けた県警では10月末、県内の「自転車通行可」の歩道1885区間、延べ2356キロ・メートルについて、周辺道路も含めて交通実態を調査するよう各警察署に指示。歩道の幅や通行量のほか、将来的に自転車通行帯が設置できるか判断するために路側帯の幅も調べるよう求めた。

県警は年内をめどに調査を終え、年明けから区間ごとに対応方針を決定。自転車通行帯を設置したり、車道のゼブラゾーンを廃止して車線を引き直したりするなど、個々の対策を打ち出す。完了までに数年かかるとみられ、方針が決まった路線から順次、県や市町村に予算計上を求める。

通達では、各警察本部に一定の裁量を認めており、県警は今後、「原則」と「地域の実情」のバランスをにらみながら判断する。

ただ、自動車1台あたりの人口が全国1位の「車王国」の群馬では、自転車利用者もドライバーも戸惑っている。通学で自転車に乗る前橋市の男子高校生(17)は「ラッシュ時に、体が車と接触したことがある。車道は怖くて走りたくない」と話し、車を毎日運転するという同市の主婦(33)も「車道を走る自転車は、危なっかしい」と話す。

全国統計では、歩行者と自転車の事故は、昨年2760件で、2000年(1827件)の1・5倍に増加したが、県内は昨年30件で、00年(35件)と同水準。一方、自転車と車の事故は昨年、県内で3136件と対歩行者事故の100倍以上で、県警幹部の一人は「大都市部と群馬では、事情が違う。人のいない歩道から、車だらけの車道に自転車を下ろして、むしろ事故が増えるのではないか」と、頭を悩ませている。
(2011年11月6日12時45分 読売新聞)

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